Can compact urban growth and local living help solve the housing crisis?

23 Jan 24

The concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods appears to be straightforward – a neighbourhood where people can meet the majority of their daily needs within ‘reasonable’ distance of their home by walking, wheeling, cycling or using sustainable transport solutions. This ‘reasonable’ distance equates to approximately 10-minutes travelling time there and back.

.

The concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods appears to be straightforward – a neighbourhood where people can meet the majority of their daily needs within ‘reasonable’ distance of their home by walking, wheeling, cycling or using sustainable transport solutions. This ‘reasonable’ distance equates to approximately 10-minutes travelling time there and back.

Despite this relatively simple concept, a number of UK local authorities have been subjected to outrage and protest when the topic has been debated, with many believing the concept to be a curtail on personal freedoms.

The idea is to promote more sustainable travel, reduce private car usage and encourage people to return to a way of life that sees basic needs met locally and within well served neighbourhoods. Perhaps no bad thing when considering expansive housing developments of the past, built on the edge of settlements without sustainable access to local amenities – maybe all new housing developments of a certain scale should include local centres to serve the heart of the new communities being created.

If the benefits, including health and well-being were fully explained, perhaps local authorities would not be branded as ‘dictators’ or promoting this concept as means of confinement.

From a Scottish perspective, and despite inclusion in NPF4, anecdotal evidence among local authority planners suggests a rebranding of 20-minute neighbourhoods to ‘local living’ will help to dispel the negative connotations.

When considering the matter further, perhaps local living will also contribute to solving recently declared housing crises in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. For example, if we were to consider Glasgow City Council as a pioneer of local living, imagine the amount of brownfield land and floorspace that could be repurposed to deliver residential development!

The recent Vision and Plan for the Golden Z (Glasgow City Centre) suggested approximately 600 units could be delivered through upper floor conversions and vacant floorspace. Upper floor conversion will not be without hurdles, with issues such as provision of adequate amenity, waste and recycling storage, cycle parking etc. all to be accommodated within existing buildings. However, there is a real opportunity to significantly promote local living within the city centre and help meet Glasgow’s aims of doubling the city centre population by 2035.

The consideration of cities as ‘local living centres’ is not particularly far-fetched when looking at the increase in PBSA, and BTR development or upper floor office to residential conversions. The majority of residents in these developments do not own cars and are ‘living locally’, it just happens to be within city centres.

Local living strategies, aka 20-minute neighbourhoods, can deliver sustainable community living while also helping to re-densify our city centres and meet increasing housing need on under-utilised urban sites.

Maura McCormack Associate,Planning
Lyndsay Macleod Planner,Planning